All things considered, the timing turned out to be rather sweet for Lee Spirits Co.’s canned cocktail release.

The Colorado Springs distillery’s “ready to drink” 12-ounce lemonade and gin cocktails launched in February to give fans a way to enjoy the perfectly proportioned craft concoction at home. Demand for such convenience was about to enter unprecedented times.

“It seems counterintuitive, but the spirits industry itself, as far as off-premises sales, liquor store sales, is actually up compared to 2019 at this time because of the pandemic,” said Nick Lee, Lee Spirits’ co-owner and vice president.

The company’s canned cocktail project was inspired in part by the overwhelming response the mixed drink received at tastings, with patrons returning multiple times for samples of the lavender gin and lemonade.

“It’s a refreshing way to experience the lavender, and the citrus in the lemonade really brings out that flavor of the lavender gin,” Lee said. “Over time we realized we were probably on to something here, and that if we could figure out a way to bring that to the market on more of a large scale, we could have some success.”

They worked out the kinks in the process early this year and Lee Spirits’ lavender gin and lemonade, and its strawberry ginger gin lemonade, hit (and began disappearing from) store shelves. Two additional lemonade cocktails, one made with cinnamon and pepper-infused gin “fuego,” and one with a 5-year-old Kentucky whiskey, will be released late next week.

“We’re putting real, genuine spirits in a can with, in our case, lemonade,” said Lee, whose distillery operates Brooklyn’s on Boulder in the Springs and, in late February, opened a tasting room in Monument. “Really, canned cocktails are sort of an offshoot of the hard seltzer craze we’re going through right now … but it’s a different experience, and the response has greatly exceeded our expectations.”

Lee Spirits’ canned cocktails recently earned it top honors, and bragging rights as Colorado’s “Ready to Drink” Distillery of the Year, at the 2020 New York International Spirits Competition. In addition, Lee’s canned strawberry ginger gin lemonade won a gold medal and its lavender gin lemonade earned bronze.

“The New York International Spirits Competition is one of the most globally recognized and respected competitions. We submitted our two products really just with the idea of getting some feedback on them … so we were just absolutely blown away by the awards,” Lee said.

Lee Spirits wasn’t the only local distillery recognized by judges at the NY competition.

The Springs’ Distillery 291 was named Best Small-Batch Bourbon Distillery in Colorado, and also earned gold for its Small Batch Colorado Bourbon finished with aspen wood staves.

Michael Myers founded his small batch whiskey distillery in 2011 and his spirited creations have earned some of the industry’s top prizes, including World’s Best Rye at the World Whiskies Awards and a Double Gold Medal at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition.

Reporter

Stephanie Earls is a news reporter and columnist at The Gazette. Before moving to Colorado Springs in 2012, she worked for newspapers in upstate NY, WA, OR and at her hometown weekly in Berkeley Springs, WV, where she got her start in journalism.

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